Saturday, May 12, 2007

*Goodbye Tony Blair, But With No Tears-Build A Militant Labor Party In The Britsh Isles-Now!

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for the histroy of the Labor Party in Britain.




The face of bourgeois politics in Europe has changed over the last year. However, there is no need for leftist militants internationally to rejoice. Although there have been changes in governmental control in a number of countries including France, Northern Ireland and presently in Great Britain no picture has emerged that, except for the general opposition to the United States-led Iraqi War, links any of these developments to an increase in social struggles. On the contrary, except perhaps for the far-left in France, the opposite appears to be the case. Obviously, the situation in France is the most worrisome for leftists and the situation in Northern Ireland appears almost tragic against the original IRA/Sinn Fein struggle to get the British out. Today, however, I want to focus on the recent resignation announcement of one Anthony Blair, British Prime Minister-President George Bush’s pet poodle but also seemingly the last major international political player who unequivocally went down the line with American imperialist policy on Iraq.

Mr. Blair made no bones about his desire of turning the tepid reformist Labor Party into a mini-version of the United States Democratic Party. He carried this transformation out with Mr. Gordon Brown the heir presumptive to the leadership of the British Labor Party and probable next Prime Minister. In this endeavor they were, sad to say, successful. New Labor is dependent on the trade unions but that is less so than in the past. It is clear that in Britain a new workers party is necessary. That means that militants there must put themselves in a position to split the left-wing of New Labor and create a new party based on a socialist program. That means it is necessary to be in that New Labor Party even if one has to hold one's nose in doing so.

To state the task is easy. To do it is obviously much harder given the British labor movement’s seeming undying commitment to the traditions of the old Labor Party. But damn there is no other way forward. One last point that should shame all militant leftists. After ten years Mr. Blair is going to be able to resign. For his criminal role in Iraq as Mr. Bush’s publicity agent and spear carrier Mr. Blair should have, for starters, been booted out on a vote of no confidence by Parliament long ago. Real justice still waits to be served.


Click on the title to link to the Partisan Defense Committee Web site


Join PDC Contingents—Philadelphia and San Francisco, May 17!
For Class-Struggle Defense to Free Mumia Now!

On May 17 in Philadelphia the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in what could well be the final legal appeal in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Shot and arrested on 9 December 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal—a talented journalist known as the "voice of the voiceless," a former Black Panther, a supporter of the MOVE organization and an outspoken opponent of racist oppression—was framed and falsely convicted for the mur¬der of police officer Daniel Faulkner. Any ruling by the Third Circuit, which could come within weeks or months, will likely be appealed to the reactionary U.S. Supreme Court.

Mumia is the victim of the forces of racist capitalist "law and order," who see in him a voice of defiant opposition to the oppression of black people that is a cornerstone of American capitalism. In the last week, the Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) harassed and made threats of terror that forced a change of venue for a birthday celebration for Mumia in Philadelphia on April 24, as well as of a hip-hop event for Mumia in New York City on April 15. The state's determination to carry out his execution is a warning to ail who challenge cop repression, to workers who stand up for their rights on picket lines, to those who protest U.S. imperialist depredations in Iraq and elsewhere around the world.

From the unions to the campuses, all out to support Mumia's fight on the day of oral arguments! The kind of pressure that will have an impact on the courts is the social power of the multiracial labor movement demanding that this innocent man be freed now. It is with this understanding that we are mobilizing Partisan Defense Committee contingents for the May 17 rallies which are called by Mumia supporters, including, in Philadelphia, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the New York Coalition to Free Mumia and, in San Francisco, the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Join the PDC's contingent under the slogans: "Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Innocent—For Class-Struggle Defense to Free Him Now! There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!"

In August of 1995, Mumia won a stay of execution based on worldwide protests, crucially involving the labor movement. From 1995 through 1999, new evidence was revealed in his case that further blew the state's frame-up to bits. All the evidence proving Mumia's innocence, including the testimony of William Singletary and Veronica Jones who saw the shooter run away, was rejected by the courts. Around this same time a number of reformist socialist organizations such as Workers World Party, Socialist Action, the International Socialist Organization and the Revolutionary Communist Party (and their front groups), raised the call for a "new trial" for Mumia. Instead of mobilizing to free Mumia as an innocent man and victim of a political and racist frame-up, these groups mobilized on the basis that Mumia could get a new and fair hearing in federal court, leading to a new and fair trial in the same Philadelphia courts that sent him to death row. These fake socialists promote illusions that Mumia can get justice from the same capitalist state that killed some 38 Panthers under its murderous COINTELPRO operations, and that massacred eleven black people, including women and children, in the 1985 fire-bombing of MOVE's Osage Avenue home in Philadelphia.

Many of these so-called socialist organizations now raise "freedom for Mumia" in conjunction with calls for a "new trial." However, their politics remain in the framework of reliance on the bourgeois state. Behind the attempts to misdirect the struggle for Mumia to a call for a "new trial" is a political program premised on reliance on the capitalist state—a program directly counterposed to a mobilization of working-class power for his freedom. This political program of tying the masses to their class enemies and pushing faith in the capitalist state demobilized millions who once filled the streets in support of Mumia.

Mumia's case lays bare the workings of the capitalist state. His frame-up conviction was not the act of one "rogue" cop or prosecutor or judge, but that of an entire system that cannot be reformed. Mumia's innocence has been attested to by mountains of evidence, including the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, killed Faulkner. Arnold Beverly stated that he was hired to kill Faulkner, whose interference with prostitution, gambling and payoffs made him a problem for the mob and corrupt cops. More than five years ago, Mumia's attorney submitted this confession to the courts, but to the racists in black robes, a court of law is no place for evidence of the innocence of this fighter for the oppressed.

The frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal symbolizes what the racist death penalty in the U.S. is all about: a legacy of chattel slavery, the lynch rope made legal. We oppose the death penalty on principle—we do not accord the state the right to say who lives and who dies. With the execution in December 2005 of Stanley Tookie Williams, over substantial popular opposition, the ruling class sent a signal that they are deadly serious that Mumia will soon be another victim of the barbaric death penalty.

In the international fight to save Sacco and Vanzetti, James P. Cannon of the International Labor Defense pointed out, as the rulers geared up in 1927 for the legal lynching of the two anarchist workers: "It is, of course, absolutely right to exhaust every legal possibility and technicality in the fight, provided—that the workers have no illusions." He emphasized: "We must appeal at the same time to the laboring masses of America and the whole world who are the highest court of all." This is the class-struggle defense strategy that the Partisan Defense Committee stands on.

The worldwide movement for Mumia must be revived on the basis that Mumia is an innocent man who must be freed now, that his conviction is a racist, political frame-up, that there is no justice in the capitalist courts. The capitalist state and its courts are not neutral institutions but organs of repression against the working class and the oppressed. Mumia's freedom will not be won through reliance on the rigged "justice" system or on capitalist politicians, whether Democratic, Republican or Green.

The PDC, a class-struggle legal and social defense organization associated with the Marxist Spartacist League, fights to mobilize the social power of the multiracial labor movement— those who create the wealth of this society and who can shut it down. That is why our contingents in Philadelphia and the Bay Area on May 17 are based on the need for class-struggle defense to free Mumia and the understanding that the capitalist state serves the interests of the racist ruling class. Labor must be mobilized independently of the very forces of the capitalist state that framed up this innocent man! The road to victory in Mumia's case begins with the understanding that the class enemy is determined to carry out his execution. The multiracial working class has every interest in fighting against that outcome, which would further bolster the machinery of capitalist state violence whose ultimate target is the working class.

We are building contingents in Philadelphia and the Bay Area as a step toward the labor-centered, mass united-front mobilizations needed to free Mumia. Such mobilizations must send the court the message: We will not let Mumia die or rot another day in prison! Free Mumia Now!

—Partisan Defense Committee, 26 April 2007

Friday, May 11, 2007

*For Class Struggle Defense To Free Mumia- A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to an article about the need for class struggle defense in the death penalty case of black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.

*From The Partisan Defense Committee- Labor: Defend Immigrant Rights- A Guest Commentary

Click on the title to link to the article described in the headline from the Partisan Defense Committee.




Apparently the ‘dark Prince'Vice President Cheney has a bull’s eye on his head. Every time he has moved out of the confines of Washington D.C. some angry group is taking dead aim militarily at him. A couple of months ago it was on a ‘surprise’ visit to Afghanistan. This week it is in the heavily guarded Green Zone of Baghdad. Clearly it does no pay to apply for a job on his staff, or the American Embassy in Baghdad for that matter. That is life in the fast lane, however, and such inconveniences come with the territory. But, that is no what has drawn my attention today. It is rather the purposes of Mr. Cheney’s mission.

The Bush Administration has staked it political head on ‘success’ for the current military 'surge' operation and its consequent stabilizing effect on the Iraqi puppet government. Congress has, weakly, challenged that strategy by attempting to tie timetables and/or benchmarks to the war budget funding. Fair enough. Enter Mr. Cheney. His current trip to Baghdad is to push on the Iraqis the need to make good on those benchmarks so the money can keep flowing for the American troops. But here is the kicker.

While in America the parliamentary political temperature has heated up dramatically with all parties ready to bring out the big guns in Iraq the parliamentarians are discussing a two-month summer recess. In short, no action on those beloved American benchmarks. All this writer can say is turnabout is fair play. The Americans wanted a ‘democracy’ in Iraq and in emulation of their patrons in Washington the Iraqis have apparently learned one lesson quite well. Enough said.





A recent newspaper article highlighted the fact that a previously discharged sailor who while on active duty had openly admitted to his superior that he was gay was recalled by the Navy due to his specialized skills and the stretched out military due to the strain of Iraq and Afghanistan. Under Clinton-era legislation a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was the ‘compromise’ reached with the military brass so that gays and lesbians could serve without the military services having to recognize sexual orientation. That policy was de facto discriminatory then and it is now and should be repealed. Recently soon to be retired Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Martin Meehan has introduced legislation to repeal the ban. Militants support such a repeal.

Over the past few years I have made many commentaries in opposition to the Iraq War and by implication the negative role of military personnel in that war. As a general proposition militant leftists are opposed to the imperialist military. We are not, however, indifferent to the fate and the rights of individual service personnel. We fight all manifestations of any form of discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation, wherever it is found. Thus, we opposed and continue to oppose the convenient policy (for the military brass) that allows the military to discriminate in situations where it would be prohibited in civilian life. This is particularly true when ‘outing’ subjects one to a discharge from military service and therefore could have repercussions over a lifetime. Simply put- DOWN WITH THE “DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL” LEGISLATION! REPEAL IT NOW!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

***IN THE TIME OF THE 'LOCO-FOCOS'- The Age Of Jackson

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the Loco-Focos.



The recently deceased bourgeois historian Arthur Schlesinger first won prominent for his landmark studies later collected and published under the title The Age of Jackson. Along the way he was also a top ‘braintruster’ for the Kennedy New Frontier and stalwart intellectual defender of the traditions of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” long after that had lost its cache in Democratic Party circles. Thus, Schlesinger was a long time political opponent of mine and of all militants who have called for a break from the twin bourgeois parties of capitalism, Democratic or Republican.

Nonetheless, his Age of Jackson is an important book to study as an overall guide to understanding the formation of American capitalism, particularly finance capitalism, as it emerged in the 1820’s and the rudiments of creation of a politically conscious working class movement. The Age of Jackson may not be the last place to stop, given the immense increase in scholarship concerning this period since Schlesinger’s book was written in the 1950’s, but it is certainly the place to start. His copious footnotes and source references will aid one in studying the available sources from fifty year ago.

The central story line of the Jacksonian period economically, socially and politically was the fight over the establishment, continuation and rechartering of the Bank of the United States which despite its name was a privately owned corporation headed by the notorious Nicholas Biddle. In short the story was, as almost always under capitalism, about the money. Hard money, paper money, metallic money, federal money, state money, no money. It is all there. As confusing and, frankly, somewhat trivial as the issues may seem to the 21st century mind the various fights determined the path of capitalist formation for the rest of the 19th century. One does not have to be a partisan of any particular monetary policy to know that if the Biddle-led forces had won then capital formation in the United States would have taken a very different turn. Thus, the essential Jacksonian victory on the bank question is one that militants today can give a retroactive endorsement.

While this book does not go into the slavery question in any great detail or into the cultural and social milieu of the times except tangentially this Jacksonian victory is why, in a previous review on William Jennings Bryan, I noted that the last time militant leftists could seriously consider supporting a Democratic Party presidential candidate was in the time of Andrew Jackson. Just to list later presidential names and their political programs should make every progressive shutter. I also, however, noted in that review - "But damn, that was long ago". The continued dependence political support of the Democrats by the likes of Schlesinger and his progeny has politics in this country spinning in circles. It is time, more than time, to move on.

Although control of the money was the underlying premise for the political fights of the day they also represented some very different appreciations of what American society should look like. Schlesinger goes to great pains to highlight the various factions within each of the coalescing parties that would come to form the Democratic and Republican two-party system that we are familiar with today. Moreover, these fights had different implications for differing sections of the country. In that regard the names Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay and their various congressional devotees can generally stand to represent the various sectional interests.

One might also note that names that became familiar in the immediate pre-Civil War period, like Abraham Lincoln, James Buchanan, John Bell, Gideon Welles, William Seward, etc. started to receive political notice as secondary figures during this period. One should also note that this was a period of political realignment and that the political situation was fluid enough that with changing political winds the various leading personalities were as likely to change sides as not. Readers should pick up the trail that Schlesinger only alludes to on the importance on the third party Liberty and Free Soil Parties in the 1840's. Despite that lapse dealing with the various political manifestations of the period is the strongest part of the professor’s book.

Of particular importance to those who want to learn about working class history in this country and are baffled by the lack of political class consciousness of today’s working class, as represented by an independent class party, is the story of the rise and fall of the first trade unions and working class parties. Although this is a period of the rise of industrial capitalism in America it is nevertheless still fairly rudimentary and agrarian concerns still dominate the political landscape. This is reflected in the programs, concerns and the organizations that various parts of the working class formed at this time mainly, it appears, among the more skilled workers. One should note that on a political level, although not uniformly, the American working class of the 1830’s was more politically class conscious than today’s working class. Which pretty well defines our problem today.

One should also note the tendency of working class organization to block with other forces, mainly urban Democratic Party Jacksonians. Today such a policy is called the ‘popular front’ and is the sole strategy of the American labor bureaucracy (the only question seemingly being which bourgeois faction to block with). Militants today, as a matter of principle, are opposed to that strategy. However, back in the 1830’s there were issues on which working class organizations could have, and should have, blocked with bourgeois parties. That, unfortunately, would not have saved them from oblivion as it was just too early, the forces were too small and unorganized and too politically immature to break out of the general Jacksonian democratic aura.





Watching the daily maneuverings of the Congress on the question of the Iraq war and its funding is frankly painful even for those of us, like myself, who have had no illusions that this war could be settled by parliamentary means. Everyone knows by now that President Bush has vetoed the original Congressional Iraqi war budget bill. What may not be familiar is that, as is the nature of such proceedings, the Congress is getting ready to pull in its horns on the question of timetables and proceed to a piecemeal budgetary authorization. Jesus, even in the context of their own lame response to the war this is parliamentary cretinism at its extreme. Once again this writer will note, as he has on previous occasions, that this war will not be over as long as President Bush draws political breathe. Unless we do something to end it. Bush made his position clear long ago and damn it he is sticking to it. The Congress obviously is another matter. They are seemingly intent of giving him his way at the first obstacle. However that is not what concerns me today.

As noted above some anti-war militants have had no illusions about a parliamentary resolution to the war. Unfortunately there are not enough of us. That said, I have recently read two articles that shed a great deal of light on the why Bush is in the catbird seat and thus can ignore the mass of the anti-war movement. The first article concerns the anti-war strategy of the Internet-driven MoveOn. Org movement. While no one should, at this point, underestimate the power of the Internet one should not overrate it as a vehicle for social change either. Not when war is the subject. MoveOn’s strategy has been to work with parliamentary lobbyists, essentially behind the scenes, to ‘pressure’ Congress, particularly the Democrats, on the war funding bills. The trick here is that these lobbyists tend to have been former congressional doers and fixers. In short, now that they have gotten ‘religion’ on the war issue these lobbyists are working with their old bosses to ‘push’ them. Jesus,Iraq really will, as I have noted before, freeze over before that tactic ends anything.

The second article is related to the first on the issue of the war budget in that one of the few Democratic Congressmen who is today (and was yesterday) ready to vote down the Iraqi war budget on a straight vote has noted in an interview that the mass of politicians in this country are way behind ( I would add way, way behind) the people in their willingness to get the hell out of Iraq NOW. And that is the rub. What joins the two articles together is the point I have been making for the last few years. This war will not end NOW by parliamentary means. Any strategy that is predicated on that notion is doomed to failure. Hell, let us call a thing by its right name. On this issue if you do not get to the streets, the factories, offices and to the military bases (in order to get to the rank and file troops) you are in the wrong places. You have no strategy for immediate withdrawal. To the mass of the anti-war movement here is my little piece of wisdom. BREAK WITH THE DEMOCRATS! NOW!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

*Hard Times In Babylon- Growing Up Among The Working Poor In The 1950s



Recently I wrote a personal commentary about a childhood friend from back in the old neighborhood where I grew up in the 1950’s (see "An Uncounted Casualty of War", May 8, 2007 archives). I have also been re-reading the recently deceased investigative journalist David Halberstam’s book "The Fifties" that covers that same period. Halberstam’s take on the trends of the period in contrast to the reality of my own childhood experiences as a child of the working poor that missed most of the benefits of that ‘golden age’ rekindled some memories. It is no exaggeration to say that these were hard times in Babylon. Those events have also made me reflect on why the hard anti-communist politics of the period left people like my parents high and dry. The defeat and destruction of the left-wing movement, principally pro-communist organizations, of that period has continued to leave a mark on today’s political landscape and on this writer.

There are many myths about the 1950’s to be sure. However, one cannot deny that the key public myth was that those who had fought World War II and were afterwards enlisted in the anti-Soviet Cold War fight against communism were entitled to some breaks. The overwhelming desire for personal security and comfort on the part of those who had survived the Great Depression and fought the war was not therefore totally irrational. That it came at the expense of other things like a more just and equitable society is a separate matter. Moreover, despite the public myth not everyone benefited from the ‘rising tide’. The experience of my parents is proof of that. Thus this commentary is really about what happened to those, like my parents, who did not make it and were left to their personal fates without a rudder to get them through the rough spots. Yes, my parents were of the much ballyhooed and misnamed ‘greatest generation’ but they were not part of it.

I will not go through all the details of my parents’ childhoods, courtship and marriage for such biographic details of the Depression and World War II are plentiful and theirs fits the pattern. One detail is, however, important and that is that my father grew up in the hills of eastern Kentucky, Hazard, Harlan County to be exact, coal mining country made famous in song and by Michael Harrington in his 1960s book "The Other America". This was, and is, hardscrabble country by any definition. Among whites these ‘hillbillies’ were the poorest of the poor. There can be little wonder that when World War II began my father left to join the Marines, did his fair share of fighting, settled in the Boston area and never looked back.

By all rights my father should have been able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill and enjoyed home and hearth like the denizens of Levittown described in Halberstam’s book and shown on the classic television shows "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Leave It To Beaver". But life did not go that way. Why? He had virtually no formal education. And moreover had three young sons born close together in the immediate post-war period. Furthermore he had no marketable skills usable in the Boston labor market. There is no call for coal miners here. My father was a good man. He was a hard-working man; when he was able find work. He was an upright man. But he never drew a break. Unskilled labor, to which he was reduced, is notoriously unstable, and so his work life was one of barely making ends meet. Thus, well before the age when the two parent working family became the necessary standard to get ahead my mother went to work to supplement the family income. She too was an unskilled laborer. Thus, even with two people working we were always dirt poor.

Our little family started life in the housing projects, at that time not the notorious hell holes of crime and deprivation that they later became but still a mark of being low, very low, on the social ladder at a time when others were heading to the Valhalla of the newly emerging suburbs. By clawing and scratching my parents saved enough money to buy an extremely modest single-family house. The house was in a neighborhood that was, and is, one of those old working class neighborhoods where the houses are small, cramped and seedy, the leavings of those who have moved on to bigger and better things. The neighborhood nevertheless reflected the desire of the working poor in the 1950’s, my parents and others, to own their own homes and not be shunted off to decrepit apartments or dilapidated housing projects, the fate of those just below them on the social ladder. This is social progress?

But enough of all that. Where in this story is there a place for militant political class-consciousness? Not the sense of social inferiority of the poor before the rich (or the merely middle class). Damn, there was plenty of that consciousness in our house. But where was there an avenue in the 1950’s, when it could have made a difference, for a man like my father to have his hurts explained and have something done about them? Nowhere. So instead it went internally into the life of the family and it never got resolved. One of his sons, this writer, has had luxury of being able to fight essentially exemplary propaganda battles in small left-wing socialist circles and felt he has done good work in his life. My father’s hurts needed much more. The ‘red scare’ aimed mainly against the American Communist Party but affecting wider layers of society decimated any possibility that he could get the kind of redress he needed. That, dear reader, in a nutshell is why I proudly bear the name socialist today. And the task for me today? To insure that future young workers, unlike my parents in the 1950’s, will have their day of justice.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An Uncounted Causality Of War- The Never-Ending Vietnam War Story On The Anniversary Of The Fall Of Ho Chi Minh City 1975 (Then Saigon)

As The Burns-Novick Vietnam War Documentary AirsAn Uncounted Causality Of War- The Never-Ending Vietnam War Story

Markin comment:


This space is usually devoted to ‘high’ politics and the personal is usually limited to some experience of mine that has a direct political point. Sometimes, however, a story is so compelling and makes the point in such a poignant manner that no political palaver is necessary. Let me tell the tale.

Recently I returned, while on some unrelated business, to the neighborhood where I grew up. The neighborhood is one of those old working class neighborhoods where the houses are small, cramped and seedy, the leavings of those who have moved on to bigger and better things. The neighborhood nevertheless reflected the desire of the working poor in the 1950's, my parents and others, to own their own homes and not be shunted off to decrepit apartments or dilapidated housing projects, the fate of those just below them on the social ladder. While there I happened upon an old neighbor who recognized me despite the fact that I had not seen her for at least thirty years. Since she had grown up and lived there continuously, taking over the family house, I inquired about the fate of various people that I had grown up with. She, as is usually the case in such circumstances, had a wealth of information but one story in particular cut me to the quick. I asked about a boy named Kenny who was a couple of years younger than I was but who I was very close to until my teenage years. Kenny used to tag along with my crowd until, as teenagers will do, we made it clear that he was no longer welcome being ‘too young’ to hang around with us older boys. Sound familiar?

The long and the short of it is that he found other friends of his own age to hang with, one in particular, from down the street named Jimmy. I had only a nodding acquaintance with both thereafter. As happened more often than not during the 1960’s in working class neighborhoods all over the country, especially with kids who were not academically inclined, when Jimmy came of age he faced the draft or the alternative of ‘volunteering’ for military service. He enlisted. Kenny for a number of valid medical reasons was 4-F (unqualified for military service). Of course, you know what is coming. Jimmy was sent to Vietnam where he was killed in 1968 at the age of 20. His name is one of the 58,000 plus that are etched on that Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington. His story ends there. Unfortunately, Kenny’s just begins.

Kenny took Jimmy’s death hard. Harder than one can even imagine. The early details are rather sketchy but they may have involved drug use. The overt manifestations were acts of petty crime and then anti-social acts like pulling fire alarms and walking naked down the street. At some point he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. I make no pretense of having adequate knowledge about the causes of mental illnesses but someone I trust has told me that such a traumatic event as Jimmy’s death can trigger the condition in young adults. In any case, the institutionalizations inevitably began. And later the halfway houses and all the other forms of control for those who cannot survive on the mean streets of the world on their own. Apparently, with drugs and therapy, there were periods of calm but for over three decades poor Kenny struggled with his inner demons. In the end the demons won and he died a few years ago while in a mental hospital.

Certainly not a happy story. Perhaps, aside from the specific details, not even an unusual one in modern times. Nevertheless I now count Kenny as one of the uncounted casualties of war. Along with those physically wounded soldiers who can back from Vietnam service unable to cope with their own demons and sought solace in drugs and alcohol. And those who for other reasons could no adjust and found themselves on the streets, in the half way shelters or the V. A. hospitals. And also those grieving parents and other loved ones whose lives were shattered and broken by the lost of their children. There is no wall in Washington for them. But, maybe there should be. As for poor Kenny from the old neighborhood. Rest in Peace.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Down with the Reactionary Anti-Porn Crusade!

Click on the headline to link to a Website featuring the paintings, nude and non-nude of the great artist, Titian. Close your eyes if you are offended by the nudes. Okay.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1985 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Down with the Reactionary Anti-Porn Crusade!
Granddaughters of Carry Nation in Bed with Jerry Falwell

Reprinted from Young Spartacus No. 123, December 1984/January 1985

MADISON— Formerly a hotbed of campus protest, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's "radical" reputation has given way in large part to smug, "me generation" liberalism. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), scabs on the anti-Vietnam War movement, carry a lot of weight in city and county government. With prudery that suits Madison's Protestant environs, "alternative" lifestylism has been institutionalized. You will live a wholesome life. Some manifestations are just plain silly: Madison was declared a "nuclear-free zone" and sandwiches come with beansprouts whether you order them or not. Some are absolutely infuriating: liquor stores close, at 9:00 p.m. and you can't buy cigarettes anywhere on the huge UW campus.

The latest target for moral uplift of the community is pornography—Penthouse and Playboy have been pulled from the Student Union newsstand on the dubious grounds of "low circulation." DSAer Kathleen Nichols, a Dane County supervisor, is proposing legislation modeled on Andrea Dworkin's Minneapolis ordinance to make pornography a civil rights violation. Material in which "people" are "reduced to body parts," "presented in postures of sexual submission" or "presented as whores by nature" would be outlawed (Badger-Herald, 8 November 1984)! Under this law, you can't consent to buy, sell, photograph or pose for pornographic pictures. As the Badger-Herald commented, "Groups normally in solidarity, such as pseudo-feminists and homosexuals, are at odds. Groups normally in opposition, such as pseudo-feminists and the local fundamentalist ministers, support the ordinance." Talk about obscene!

We print below a slightly edited version of the Spartacus Youth League statement submitted to the Madison Isthmus and UW Daily Cardinal. It appeared in a shortened version in the Isthmus (16 November 1984) while the Cardinal has refused to publish it.

Contrary to prevailing liberal opinion, Madison is part of Reagan's USA, albeit with a twist. Witness the New Right's drive to "clean up America." It's going strong in Madison. There's legislation to ban dirty pictures. On 19 October 1984, demonstrators picketed at a State Street porno store; someone stenciled "Burn Me Down" on the wall—and they mean it. Rampaging fundamentalists? Nope. This particular anti-sex crusade is led by Madison's "alternative" to the Army of God— the "radical" feminists.
Finding Robin Morgan in bed with Jerry Falwell may surprise some who thought feminism had something to do with women's liberation. After all, the '60s feminists posed as right-on revolutionaries. They rejected "male-defined" sex roles, denounced "family values" as scams to keep women isolated, dependent, condemned to domestic servitude. They worried about racism and poor people. But the feminists never opposed the oppressive capitalist system itself: their "program" consists of escapist lifestylism, "consciousness raising," "women's" vegetarian co-ops. That's why the feminist "movement" didn't move. It remained confined to rarefied microcosms like Madison, lily-white and middle-class.

What's left of the "movement" no longer even worries about real human oppression. While the feminists are busy trying to stamp out fishnet stockings and high heels, genuine assaults on women's rights go unanswered. Legalized abortion is seriously threatened; abortion clinics get firebombed, their patients harassed, but you don't hear a peep from the feminists. Then there's the case of Patricia Ridge—a single, black, working mother. Last year her five-year-old son was shot pointblank in her bedroom in a Los Angeles-area housing project by a white cop. The cop got off, but a grand jury tried to charge her with everything from child neglect to Murder Two. The Marxist Spartacist League came to her defense. But the organized feminists did nothing. For them, "women's oppression" equals nude photos: they're blind to real class and race oppression facing working-class and black women.

This "Take Back the Night" crusade is a slice of middle America at its worst—about as progressive as forbidding sex education. It dovetails with the current incitement of every backward, sexist, racist, jingoistic prejudice of American society in preparation for war against the USSR. The Democrats and Republicans have been humming "Onward Christian Soldiers" since Cold War II began under born-again Jimmy Carter; with Reagan the crusade has reached new lows. They both want a "prepared" society with social relations straight out of "Leave It To Beaver." No "extramarital" sex, no porn, no abortion, no gays.

The feminists even share Cold War/Moral Majority terminology (e.g., "Porn is the new terrorism"). And there's a certain ideological congruence. The feminists basically buy the Moral Majority's "me Tarzan, you Jane" view of human sexuality: women are gentle nurturers, children are "innocent" and asexual, while men are sexual aggressors. That's what "Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice" boils down to: men are barely controlled rapists—all it takes is a little leg to set 'em off. In that case, why stop with censoring Penthouse? According to Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of the Feminist Connection, Rubens and Titian can go too: they painted women ravished by swans! (Perhaps when Gaylor leaves the Connection, she can get a job at the Elvehjem Museum chiseling the genitals off classical statues.)

Then there's the touchy question of First Amendment rights. With the exception of the rabid crackpot Andrea Dworkin, most feminists try to squeak past it by making a snooty differentiation between pornography and "erotica." It works like this. "Erotica" is printed on expensive paper with "tasteful" hand-drawn illustrations; "pornography" goes for $2.50, with tacky overexposed photos. As the saying goes, "perversion" is what you aren't into.

As Marxists, the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth League oppose all attempts at puritanical censorship, whether launched by outright reactionaries or feminist ayatollahs. You can't legislate sexuality. We defend the right of consenting individuals in any combination of age, race, sex, in any number, to engage in the sexual activity of their choice—or look at the photos of their choice—without state intervention.

Pornography is not violence: it's fantasy. Rape is a form of violent criminal assault. Among other things, we advocate the repeal of gun control laws: women should have the right to carry arms and use them in self-defense. To argue that "porn is rape" or, like Robin Morgan, that any sex not initiated by a woman is rape, is—aside from being pretty damned presumptuous— to trivialize and confuse the issue. Capitalist society— its forced poverty, rigid family structure, hypocritical straitjacket morality—breeds the poisonous frustrations that explode in violence. The liberation of women requires getting rid of the repressive constraints imposed on women by the nuclear family, thus creating the possibility of new relationships based on social equality—free from compulsion and stultifying "moral" restrictions. In short, women's liberation requires socialist revolution.

While the feminist anti-porn crusaders rely on candlelight vigils, their Reaganite allies have access to systematic state repression and vigilante terror. And Reagan has launched a full-scale attack on democratic rights. Political opposition becomes "terrorism." Cop/ media hysteria about child abuse at daycare centers carries the message that the only safe place for kids is locked up at home with a non-working mom. If your sexual preference doesn't suit Jerry Falwell, you could be locked up for life.

That's no idle threat. The campaign for "decency" has been viciously anti-gay from the start. Vanessa Williams lost her crown not least because those photos were of lesbian sex. Boston-area photographer George Jacobs got 20 years for the "crime" of having consensual sex with his 14-year-old roommate. Jacobs was tested to determine if he was a "sexually dangerous person" and could have been put away in a mental hospital permanently. The cops and press went wild over NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association), an organization for the defense of civil rights of "men and boys involved in consensual sexual and other relationships with each other." NAMBLA members were beaten, framed and sent to psychiatric institutions. And that's nothing compared with the Justice Department's plan to research "behavior modification, chemical treatments, physiological stud¬ies of those suspected of psychosexual dysfunction—as evidenced by...their divorces or homosexuality" (Village Voice, 7 August 1984)!

The reactionary nature of anti-porn legislation masquerading as protection of "civil rights" is spelled out in a new law pending in Suffolk County, New York. The bill is identical to Dworkin's Minneapolis anti-porn law, minus feminist verbiage. It's sponsored by groups like the National Federation for Decency (an actual organization!) explicitly to "wipe out sodomy" and, according-to one supporter, "pornography [that] could cause social decay leading to a possible communist takeover"!

It's not like the feminists can't smell this anti-gay stench; far from it. Kathleen Nichols, lesbian activist member of the "Democratic" Socialists of America, is the Dane County supervisor behind the Madison censorship. This bigot told OUT! magazine that if the ordinance closes adult bookstores where gay men meet, all the better to stop AIDS because "that kind of anonymous sexual congress has resulted in 5500 cases of AIDS" (OUT!, September 1984). For this anti-democratic liberal, male gay sex is a health hazard. This is vile anti-gay bigotry. Do lesbians active in the anti-porn movement believe that once they outlaw everyone else's sexual practices, their own will be protected? They're on mighty thin ice. Check out Khomeini's Iran: no porn there—and they stone homosexuals to death.

Pornography reflects, and only reflects, some human behavior. In this violent, irrational society, those reflections sometimes aren't pretty: but you can't change society by changing its images on a screen. "Positive images" won't materially advance the cause of women's equality any more than those movies with Sidney Poitier as the black neurosurgeon changed the harsh reality of racist oppression. Socialist revolution alone can create the economic basis to replace the nuclear family and liberate women. We don't pretend to know what human relations in socialist society will be like. But we assume that, liberated from the artificial constraints currently imposed on human expression, sexuality under socialism will be more free, more open, more tolerant, more rich and more diverse. May the day come soon.

Carla Norris
for the Spartacus Youth League

Monday, April 30, 2007





One of the few pleasures that someone like myself gets out of covering this ultimately dreary and meaningless 2008 presidential election cycle is the chance to make a few friendly wagers on various propositions. In the wake of last week’s political activities here is some background for my first betting proposition of the season.

Last week, the week of April 23, 2007, all of the announced Democratic Party presidential candidates met for what today passes as debate at South Carolina
State College. Make no mistake-the 2008 presidential election is strictly the Democrats to lose after the debacle of the Bush years. Under those terms the Democratic Party nomination very much means something this time. So what happened in South Carolina? Everyone made ‘nice’ (with the exception of anti-warrior/relic former Senator Mike Gravel). If President Bush and the Congressional leadership are doing a minuet over the Iraq War budget the Democratic candidates were doing a waltz. Nobody apparently stumbled but no one took any lead on anything, especially on Iraq. The leading candidates are all waiting to take over the war from Bush in 2009. That, my friends, is almost two years way. So much for the courage of the parliamentary opposition. These are not good times for anyone with a bold vision in American politics, except those who favor more jails, more bombs and more debt. Off the performances down South it looks to me like Hillary at 5/2 against the field. That is not for betting purposes. Yet.

And the Republicans? Rudy Guiliani apparently has too many wives. Mitt Romney has too few. (I would definitely have given the founder of Mormonism Joseph Smith, Mitt’s co-religionist, a careful look based on his politics in the 1840’s as a Free-Soiler. Even Mitt’s great-grandfather seems interesting with his five wives- now that is displaying executive ability. Poor Mitt is, however, just a poor cookie-cutter copy of what passes today for a standard brand Republican). And the latest official entry into the race, John McCain, is a toothless old hag. Anyone who in 2007 makes defense of the Iraq quagmire a central theme of his or her campaign truly suffers from a “ Manchurian Candidate” complex (meaning the original film version, not the more recent one starring Denzel Washington). Even the lackluster Democratic field looks like the Founding Fathers (oophs, Founders) compared to these guys. So what are the Republicans to do against the seeming Democratic lock on 2008? Well, how about Jeb Bush? Madness, you say. Hear me out, please.

After the mid-term 2006 elections I wrote, rather off-handedly I thought at the time, that the idea of a Hillary Clinton run at the presidency was too depressing to contemplate. I stated that any bourgeois republic that could do no better than to come up with a perennial Bush/Clinton dynastic quinella deserved all the trouble it got. And it does. However, since we are going to get Hillary anyway we might as well take Jeb Bush in the bargain. What the hell, the Republican strategy in 2008 has got to be to win the Southern states as usual, try to hold their own in the non- coastal West and fight it out in the Midwest. Old Jeb fits that strategy to a tee. He is suppose to be brighter than his brother (not a particularly hard thing to do) and ran Florida no worst than any previous governor. If the Republicans are going to have to run off of the decrepit Bush legacy anyway they might as well get the real thing. I think a Hillary/Jeb confrontation in 2008 is about 20-1 against now. Any takers?

Sunday, April 29, 2007





At the price of beating the reader over the head once again this writer finds the need to comment on these recent acts of parliamentary hubris between the Bush Administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress. This past week, the week of April 25, 2007, both branches of Congress passed their joint compromise version of the supplementary Iraq war budget by slim margins. Next week Bush promises to veto that bill because it contains timetables for troop draw down. The Congress, at this point, does not have enough votes to override that veto. So on the parliamentary level it is back to square one. Remember two things. First, the Congress voted FOR continued funding for the war against all reason. That includes all the leading Congressional presidential contenders, notably Hillary and Obama the “Charma”. Second, this war will get funded one way or the other. No one in Washington with any weight is committed to any other course. The net effect of these acts of parliamentary cretinism is that this war will continue on course until at least 2009. That is the nut of the matter.

Anyone who was gullible enough, or idealistic enough, to believe that there would be a swift end to the conflict should by now be thoroughly disabused of the notion that, well-intentioned or not, the Democrats would get this thing over with soon. Moreover, even in the narrow confines of military strategy Iraq commander General Petreus spent the week backing off a timetable for when the public should see results from this summer to the fall. Additionally, the daily news out of Iraq gets grimmer each week the ‘surge’ continues. It does not take a hardened communist, although that does not hurt, to realize that such would be the outcome. I have been playing the role of Cassandra on this war for the past few years. Now it is time to get nasty with those people. This war, if it is to be finished, will take the efforts of those willing to go out into the streets, go into the factories and offices, go into the schools and, most importantly, link up with the rank and file soldiers fighting this war to do that. So let us get to it. The time for parliamentary niceties and waiting for good new is long past over.

On another note. Just when it seemed that every one is abandoning the ship Titanic, I mean the ship Bush , I read an article in the Sunday April 29, 2007 Boston Globe by Op/Ed columnist Jeff Jacoby defending the Bush ‘surge’ and taking the Democratic Congress to task for not taking the fight against ‘war on terror’ in Iraq seriously. Moreover, Mr. Jacoby does a rather crude job of linking up the Democrats and Al Qaeda.

Where has this guy been for the last several years? Former top Bush strategist Matthew Dowd has written off his former bosses as fools. Former CIA Director George Tenet, of ‘slam dunk’ fate, self-servingly questions whether Bush can tie his own shoes. But the intrepid Mr. Jacoby counts himself among the approximately seven ‘true believers’ who still think that while things are tough ‘victory’ is possible in Iraq.

The only part of Mr. Jacoby’s commentary that I can agree with is that Al Qaeda is happy with the American quagmire in Iraq. But not for his reasons. One of the main fallacies of American policy makers and their hangers-on, like Mr. Jacoby, is that Al Qaeda and its network condition their policy on American moves. Sure, they take advantage of stupidities like Iraq but it is apparent that they pretty much keep to their own counsel and are immune to the niceties of American rationalism, such as it is. Thus, to premise continuing a massive troop presence in Iraq on keeping Al Qaeda out is wishful thinking. Make no mistake these ‘guys’ are the enemy but bombing Iraq back to the Stone Age is not the way to defeat them.

How then, Mister Smart Guy Markin? I have written elsewhere that Islamic fundamentalism is a threat to every one of us that seeks a democratic secular world, to speak nothing of a socialist one. The options in that fight objectively are fairly narrow. Know this- a workers government would, of necessity, have a fight to the death with these forces, particularly in the Middle East. Not like that ultimately half-hearted fight the Soviets waged in Afghanistan. In the end that only whetted the appetites of Bin Laden and his followers. No question. But it looks to me like diligent police work would be more effective. On the level of police work, while not conceding any political points to that fundamentalist monarchy, the news out of Saudi Arabia this week points in the right direction. The Saudis were able to foil various plots against their regime by what appears to be good police work. And if that fails? Believe me, if a workers government needed to take military action to root these buggers out then that strategy would be placed squarely on the agenda. Know this also-under our own worker-controlled government we would have not problem getting workers councils to fund that kind of war.

Friday, April 27, 2007




At one time I used to believe that the Progressive Era in America, roughly from 1900- 1920, was the real source of post World War II ideas of social progress such as Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier and Johnson’s Great Society. Previously I had placed those ideas on the doorstep of Franklin Roosevelt. Ah, but those were the silly days of my youth when I believed that the Democratic Party could be pushed to the left and made the equivalent of a European social-democratic organization responsible to its working class base.

I now believe that the progressive period is decisive but for a different reason, that is, its role in sucking up the leftist political landscape and preventing a hard core working class-centered socialist party from crystallizing in this country. For those, like myself, who look hard for antecedents, this is important to an understanding of why today, in face of incredible provocations by the two major political parties, we have no independent class party of the working people. Thus, a look at the period becomes essential for understanding the malaise that we find ourselves today. A good place to start, and I would emphasize the word start since the book originally took form in the 1950's, is Professor Hofstadter’s book on the period. While one does not have to be sympathetic to his generally pro-Progressive tilt this little book, complete with important footnoted source references, gives a very good outline of the personalities, issues and sociological trends that broke the back of fight for an independent mass socialist party in the period.

Ironically in Europe, in the period under discussion, large, well-organized class-conscious labor parties some of them, like the Bolsheviks in Russia even revolutionary were rearing there heads. Although a relatively small, loosely organized, and programmatically amorphous Socialist Party did emerge in the United States at this time it was definitely (and occasionally, by choice) subordinated to the Progressive movement. Unless one is eternally committed to the political strategy of the ‘popular front’, that is multi-class organizations based on the lowest common denominator policies in order to achieve social change this was a very badly missed opportunity by socialists.

Hofstadter makes the interesting, and basically true, point that the whirlwind Populist movement that sprang out of the farms of the American prairie in the early 1890’s and embraced Free Silver and Bryan in 1896 was fundamentally hostile to the urban classes and particularly to the working class. I have argued elsewhere that the working class had no interest in the inflationary silver coinage issue. Moreover the populist movement, except in the South where it had the potential of driving a wedge against the rampant race segregation there, was the last gasp effort of the small capitalist family farmer in the face of the victory of mass industrialization and the rise of finance capital. I would however, argue that as late as 1896 it was still possible that the bedeviled populist movement could have been an auxiliary to an urban-based workers party. With the rise of the middle class Progressive movement such a possibility was derailed.

The rise of the Progressive movement is the strongest part of this book. Hofstadter having staked out his own personal political philosophy under the aegis of that movement has many interesting things to say about it. The fundamental driving force behind this movement was the fact of ruthless industrialization and the reaction to it by those who either had previously benefited from society, the classic “Mugwumps”, or were being driven under by ‘ the captains of industry’. Particularly well done are the analyses of the rise of the professoriat, the increase in the number of cities and their size and with it the creation of new political organizations, the change in the status of the clergy and the free professions, immigration (that round of it, anyway) and the changing mores which broke down the prevailing ideology.

While one may, as this writer does, disagree with the depth of the positive effects that the various pieces of legislation that the Progressives were able to get passed one can nevertheless see that a different class axis would have been necessary in order to make fundamental changes. Thus, although Hofstatder will not be you last place to look in understanding the evolution, such as it is, of American society for this crucial period in working class history it certainly should be your first stop.

Thursday, April 26, 2007



The main bourgeois electoral political action of 2007 in the Western world has thus far been the French presidential elections. After the just completed first round the Gaullist and Socialist Party candidates are headed into the final round on May 6th. Recently, in a commentary on the workers movement and public campaign funding (see April 2007 archive), I used the example of the French presidential campaign in discussing the erroneous policy of ‘far left’ groups in France, like the Revolutionary Communist League (English translation) and Worker’s Struggle (also English translation), of accepting campaign funds from the state. My position was that as a matter of integrity, the nature of our tasks and security this policy was unprincipled for revolutionaries. That stirred up some controversy; or rather I should say a 'tempest in a teapot', not so much around the question of accepting funds as the question of whether those organizations in France should have even fielded presidential candidates. Thus, the question is starkly posed. Can leftists in principle run for executive office in the bourgeois state and therefore take political responsibility for the administration of its policy? The following comments represent my take on this issue; however, they are by no means my final thinking on the matter.

Those of us who consider themselves Marxists owe two debts of gratitude to Vladimir Lenin. First, for leading the modern fight against parliamentary abstensionism, mainly a fight against anarchist and syndicalism tendencies in the worker’s movement to deny any importance to bourgeois elections as a means of getting out the socialist message. His classic polemic against those tendencies in ‘Left-Wing' Communism-An Infantile Disorder’ gives short shrift to such notions.

Secondly, we owe Lenin for his sorely needed updating of the Marxist conception of the state and the need to replace the current bourgeois state with a workers state with its own institutions. His classic statement of the case in State and Revolution gives short shrift to the notion that a victorious worker’s revolution can take over the current state apparatus with just a little ‘fine tuning’.

Why do we need to invoke the tremendous authority of Lenin on what is a seemingly simple question of whether a revolutionary organization should or should not run for an executive office of the bourgeois state? On the basis of State and Revolution to pose the question would appear to give the answer. However, unlike other questions this one is not one where to pose the question gives the answer. Let us set the parameters of the debate. Nobody, or at least I hope nobody, believes in 2007 that running in elections will lead to socialism. I would also hope that nobody believes that we can simply take over the current state apparatus as is and go from there. I would further hope that no one, in some kind of anarchist funk, would fail to draw a distinction between administering the executive power of the capitalist state and using the legislative branch as a forum in order to be ‘ tribunes of the people’. Finally, for now and the foreseeable future no one should assume that this question is much more than a theoretical one. Otherwise something is desperately wrong with one's organizational priorities and one's grasp of political reality.

So now that I have safety guarded all those parameters, What is the big deal? And that is pretty much where I stand on the issue. Historically, revolutionaries have used bourgeois election periods to run on their programs and get a hearing in quarters they might not reach outside of the electoral process. In terms of executive offices, a revolutionary organization, like the Socialist Workers Party in the old days, ran for executive office with the proviso that if elected they would not serve. And that seems to me to continue to be the right policy. Those who want to carry out a policy of total refusal to participate in executive office campaigns, like the presidency, today have got to make a better argument for that decision than they have thus far.

Saturday, April 21, 2007




DECEIVING THE DECEIVERS: Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, S.J. Hamrick, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2004.

I like a James Bond spy thriller, replete with the latest technology, as well as the next guy. Le Carre’s Cold War-inspired George Smiley series. Even better. So when I expected to get the real ‘scoop’ on the actions of the Kim Philby-led Ring of Five in England that performed heroic spy service for the Soviet Union I found instead mostly skimpy historical conjecture by Mr. Hamrick. The central premise of his book that the Ring of Five was led by the rings in their noses by Western intelligence made me long for one of Mr. le Carre’s books. Apparently the only virtue of the opening of Cold War archives has been not to bring some clarity about the period but to create a cottage industry of conjecture and coincidence that rivals the Lee Harvey Oswald industry. Interestingly, the New York Review of Books (April 26, 2007) in its review of Mr. Hamrick’s book brought in the big guns. The review by Phillip Knightley, who actually has done some heavy work sorting out the Philby case, politely, too politely, dismisses the claims as so much smoke. No disagreement there from these quarters.

Intelligence gathering, as we are painfully aware in light of the Iraq fiasco, is a very inexact science. So mistakes, honest mistakes unlike the fudged Iraq intelligence, are part of the price for increased knowledge about what your enemy is up to. This writer makes no bones about his admiration for Kim Philby and the others who came over to the side of communism, as they saw it. That they were traitors to their English upper class upbringing, to boot, only increases their appeal. One can argue all one wants to about whether the information they provided to the Soviets was good, tainted, ignored or thrown in the waste paper basket. The question for history is did they subjectively aim to aid the cause of socialism. And did they come to regret their youthful decisions. From all the evidence, especially in the case of Philby, they did not. Until someone comes up with the ‘smoking gun’ that the Ring of Five’s work was all a sham socialists should still honor their memories. And that of Richard Sorge in Japan. Also Leopold Trepper and his “Red Orchestra” in Europe during the German Occupation. And, dare I say it, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the United States.

Friday, April 20, 2007





As the current Bush Administration-directed quagmire continues in Iraq it is rather timely to look at the previously bout of American imperialist madness in Vietnam if only in order to demonstrate the similar mindsets, then and now, of the American political establishment and their hangers-on. This book, unintentionally I am sure, is a prima facie argument, against those who see Iraq (or saw Vietnam) as merely an erroneous policy of the American government that can be ‘fixed’ by a change to a more rational imperialist policy guided by a different elite. Undeniably there are many differences between the current war and the struggle in Vietnam. Not the least of which is that in Vietnam there was a Communist-led insurgency that leftists throughout the world could identify with and were duty-bound to support. No such situation exists in Iraq today where, seemingly, from the little we know about the murky politics of the parties there militant leftists can support individual anti-imperialist actions as they occur but stand away, way away from the religious sectarian struggle for different versions of a fundamentalist Islamic state that the various parties are apparently fighting for.

Stanley Karnow’s well-informed study of the long history of struggle in Vietnam against outsiders, near and far, is a more than adequate primer about the history and the political issues, from the American side at least, as they came to a head in Vietnam in the early 1960’s. This work was produced in conjunction with a Public Broadcasting System documentary in 1983 so that if one wants to take the time to get a better grasp of the situation as it unfolded the combination of the literary and visual presentations will make one an ‘armchair expert’ on the subject. A glossary of by now unfamiliar names of secondary players and chronology of events is helpful as are some very good photographs that lead into each chapter

This book is the work of a long time journalist who covered Southeast Asia from the 1950’s until at least the early 1980’s when he went back after the war was over and interviewed various survivors from both sides as well as key political players. Although over twenty years has passed since the book’s publication it appears to me that he has covered all the essential elements of the dispute as well as the wrangling, again mainly on the American side , of policy makers big and small. While everyone should look at more recent material that material appears to me to be essentially more specialized analysis of the general themes presented in Karnow’s book. Or are the inevitably self-serving memoirs by those, like former Secretary of War Robert McNamara, looking to refurbish their images for the historical record. Karnow’s book has the added virtue of having been written just long enough after the end of the war that memories, faulty as they are in any case, were still fresh but with enough time in between for some introspection.

The first part of Karnow’s book deals with the long history of the Vietnamese as a people in their various provincial enclaves, or as a national entity, to be independent of the many other powers in the region, particularly China, who wanted to subjugate them. The book also pays detailed attention to the fight among the European colonial powers for dominance in the region culminating in the decisive victory for control by France in the 1800’s. That domination by a Western imperialist power, ultimately defeated by the same Communist and nationalist forces that were to defeat the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies, sets the stage for the huge role that the United States would come to play from the time of the French defeat in 1954 until their own defeat a couple of decades later. This section is important to read because the premises of the French about their adversary became, in almost cookie-cutter fashion, the same premises that drove American policy. And to similar ends.

The bulk of the book and the central story line, however, is a study of the hubris of American imperialist policy-makers in attempting to define their powers, prerogatives and interests in the post-World War II period. The sub-title of the book, which the current inhabitants of the Bush Administration obviously have not read and in any case would willfully misunderstand, is how not to subordinate primary interests to momentary secondary interests in the scramble to preserve the Empire.

Apparently, common sense and simple rationality are in short supply when one goes inside the Washington Beltway. Taking into account the differences in personality among the three main villains of the piece- Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon- the similarities of response and need to defend some sense of honor, American honor, are amazingly similar, individual rhetoric aside. There thus can be little wonder the North Vietnamese went about their business of revolution and independence pretty much according to their plans and with little regard to ‘subtleties’ in American diplomacy. But, read the book and judge for yourselves. Do not be surprised if something feels awfully, awfully familiar.

Thursday, April 19, 2007




No leftist has, or should have any illusions, particularly these days with the current composition of the United States Supreme Court, that any of our hard fought constitutional safeguards are safe from attack. The constitutionally-sanctioned right to privacy took a rather big hit on April 18, 2007 when the people in black, or I should say men in black, voted 5-4 to uphold a federally-enacted ban against so-called ‘partial-birth’ abortions passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by one George W. Bush. While we have long seen the Fourth Amendment right to security from unwarranted searches and seizures become emasculated by these closet Nazis this is the first time that the new rightist majority has taken direct aim at the right to abortion. It was not pretty and the future looks equally bleak.

In the case of the previously mentioned Fourth Amendment, however, the esteemed justices at least had the defense, as I have noted elsewhere, that they were unaware that such constitutional safeguards existed. I have it on good authority that Justice Thomas did not even know that such an amendment existed. Jusstice Scalia is aware of the amendment but believes that it only applies to writs of general assistance that were actually signed by George III or one of his royal agents. Apparently their expensive law educations did not include courses on such trivial matters. But on the question of abortion the two new Bush-appointed Supremes- Roberts and Alito- were placed on the court for no other reason than to take dead aim at the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. And they came through.

Well so much for the obvious. What is not quite so obvious and what should concern leftists who understand the need to desperately defend abortion rights is the response of the major women’s rights group the bourgeois National Organization for Women (NOW). According to a statement issued by NOW in response to the Supreme Court decision the way to beat back this latest challenge to abortion rights for all women is to elect a Congress and a President, presumably Democratic, that will overturn the federally-mandated ban. Jesus, have these people lost all political imagination. A little primer on the subject would reveal that one of the key factors in the Roe Court’s decision resulted from the pressure from the streets that women and their allies organized. That lesson apparently has been lost in the mist of time. Nevertheless we have not forgotten that tactic and we better be prepared to use it again. And while we are at it we had better dust off our old slogans. DEFEND ABORTION RIGHTS! DEFEND ABORTION CLINICS! DEFEND ABORTION ON DEMAND!

Saturday, April 14, 2007






Can we all, please, take time out from the new growth sport of bashing the singularly unattractive Don Imus and return to the central issue of the day-the bloody war in Iraq. While there has been much gnashing of teeth over Imus as the media falls all over itself on one side or the other for one of its fallen comrades some genuinely weird things have happened on the Iraq front here in America and there, as well. Here’s some commentary in a nutshell about the week of April 9th 2007.

• Secretary of War Robert Gates announces an immediate, all-inclusive extension of tours of duty in Iraq. The rationale given is that now the troops will know for sure how long they really have to stay rather than the old policy of surprise extensions. That policy naturally will go over well with the troops and their families, especially those close to coming home. I would think that it would also be a lovely recruitment tool to drum up a few inductees knowing that if deployed they will have to spend 15 months in that hellhole. Moreover, the real upshot of all this news is that the Pentagon, at least, is planning for a very, very long stay in Iraq, win or lose. If there was ever a time when we should be pushing hard for those anti-war soldier and sailor solidarity committees that I have been propagandizing for over the last year it is now. Let us do it.

• After several weeks in operation now it is clear that the much-touted Bush Administration military strategy to secure Baghdad is working. No, this is not a typo. It is working for the insurgents, sectarians and others who one way or another oppose the United States presence in Iraq. How? While the military strategy is to tamp down the situation in Baghdad those oppositional forces have stood down or moved out of Baghdad. The sectarian civil war has been moved, at least temporarily, to the suburbs. Speaking from a strictly military viewpoint it is obvious that many, many thousands more troops would be needed for the current military strategy to even get to square one. If I recall a member of the Army General Staff was booted into oblivion for even attempting to make such an evaluation before the war started. What is more important, however, is the arrogance behind the strategy. That is a belief that the various Iraqi oppositionists would stay in place to be wiped out by the American forces. As demonstrated in Vietnam and is again apparent here the military has vastly underestimated the enemy. And is reaping the windfall for its errors. I guess the millions of dollars that it takes to educate each West Point graduate do not buy what they use to. Oh, well.

• In something out of Catch-22, the satirical book by Joseph Heller about the misadventures of some soldiers and the inanities of the military bureaucracy in World War II, a military spokesperson this week used an anti-American demonstration led by Al-Sadr and his Madhi Army in civilian guise calling for an end to the American presence as apparently the latest rationale for the Iraq War. With no sense of irony he pointed out that four years ago such a demonstration under the Saddam regime would not have been permitted. So, in the final analysis, the reason for the war is to allow potential insurgents against the American presence to yell their lungs out for the U.S. to get the hell of their country.

• While on the subject of Al-Sadr it is apparent that he is starting to feel his oats with this successful mobilization mentioned above. From this geographical and political distance I make no presence to predict what the radical Shiite cleric is up to. But Sadr has powerful Shiite friends in Iran. He seems to be tiring of being the water boy for the current puppet government in Iraq. He has what is seemingly a reasonably disciplined force and he has been bloodied by the Americans when he was in a weaker military position. Most importantly, he has a mass base in Sadr City and its environs that will soon tire of having their doors kicked down by every ugly American who passes by. This situation bears watching.

• I have on more than one occasion mentioned that politics many times is a matter of timing. With a look in the direction of American presidential electoral politics I note that, beyond any rational calculation, Arizona Senator John McCain this week went out of his way in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute to not only support the Bush doctrine in Iraq but take credit for initiating it. Has anyone else noticed that when ANYONE, including President Bush, defends the war it is done in some isolated military outpost or other pro-military gathering like the VFW? I would hope they are afraid to go any other place. But I digress. Why any candidate, even a war supporter, in the year 2007 would go out of his or her way to claim credit for this disaster is beyond me. Perhaps, there is some truth to that ‘Manchurian Candidate’ charge due to McCain’s years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. But wait, maybe McCain is just a sincere patriot for the American Way? On a recent trip to a Baghdad market he stated that he saw some real progress there toward the secure democratic solution that he fervently desires. Of course, he was escorted by half the American troop ‘surge’ on his journey. Obama the “Charma” had some well earned fun commenting on that one. Let me just say this. I recently went down to my local farmers’ market and I found no need for a military escort. That is a democratic norm in my book. McCain, however, is presumably privy to more inside ‘dope’ than I am so I will just let Obama have the day on that one.

• Finally, I cannot resist saying a little something about one Don Imus. I cannot say that I have ever listened to his radio show although I have heard plenty of others that are as bilious as his appears to have been. I cannot say that I have any interest in basketball, collegiate or professional, except to note that the Rutgers women’s basketball team was something of a rag to riches story that everyone can appreciate. I, however, can make a couple of observations. If the words used by Imus on the public airwaves are indicative then you can imagine how deeply racist and sexist the talk is around the water cooler. That itself would come as no surprise. However, reportedly, his audience of an estimated two million listeners is at its core composed of young and affluence listeners. An advertiser's dream, to be sure. A nightmare for those of us trying to reach the youth in our fight for socialism. Every time one of these ‘incidents’ occurs there is much discussion about the aberrant behavior of the individual involved. True enough. But, underneath that commonplace is a hard fact. This is a deeply racially segregated society with enough sexism to drive the sane crazy. The hard truth is that until we change the material social basis for every day existence these ‘incidents’ will continue unabated. That fight continues. In the meantime-Rutgers women’s basketball team well done, on and off the court.